Tag Archives: Economics of Knowledge

Does Being an IT Specialist or a Generalist Impact Your Income?

I profess that I am not an HR expert, however, I have mentored and given career advice to many folks around the globe. The most common question I get and contemplate myself is, does career specialization impact your market value.

In Adam Smith’s pin factory, he poetically describes how specialization and division of labor give rise to economies of scale and made mass production a possibility leading to consumerism which is the ideal capitalistic manifestation of the American Dream we are currently trying to export to China and the world!.  The model in a nutshell goes as follows: you have got to buy stuff. Lots of it. Go in debt doing so. Why? So you can promote mass production, consumerism and division of labor, economies of scale thus working for the rest of your life to pay down your debt, and you get the picture.

The question remains though, how deep should our specialized skills be? And how does it affect our income? A colleague of mine beautifully stated once that our skills are similar to the letter T. The horizontal top is your general skills, and the vertical portion is your specialization. When I went for my Masters’ Degree in Economics he told me that my new skills resemble the letter n or the Greek Pi (Π) where I have two in-depth specialization.

So, which letter should your skills resemble and which one is most lucrative these days? If you are the type and specialize in a niche market, say stored procedures on mainframe DB2, then you are in a different league than say a Java developer. The problem: It’s easy to outsource your job. Why? It’s too specialized to a degree that it is easily definable. The same goes for just about the majority of such types with clear-cut division of labor and specialization and a uniform job description.

Now, if you are the Pi (Π) type, where you multi-specialize, then it will be harder but not impossible for you to be indispensable. Remember, we operate in a labor market without borders where you can hire five for the price of one or two.

So, what’s the answer? In my opinion:

  1. In the age of globalization, with
  2. A highly outsourced corporate functions,
  3. Large wage gaps in an global labor pool (for now anyway)
  4. And outsourcing companies buying local outfits to assimilate and “look and feel” more local thus expanding market share while maintain a small local presence

Your best bet is to have either models, the (Π) or the type with an extended horizontal top implying more generalized skills which include great soft skillsdeep local knowledgesocial capital through networking and most importantly working in a hard-to-define jobs with vague requirements and responsibilities where you have to wear many hats (think Startups). Finally, add a Security clearance requirement and you have the proverbial cherry on top!!

The Currency of Knowledge: How Realizing the Economic Value of your Knowledge Will Help You Succeed in Technology and Beyond

Remember the wheel? The first Plow? The domestication of animals? The first tribe who settled down on the Nile river delta or Mesopotamia and turned into communities farming the land and actually having the first surplus as archaeologists have discovered?

What happened afterwards? Ever since those social changes took place and the first signs of civilization begun to spring up, the only thing that has been changing since then is, yes you guessed it, Technology!

Everything we have achieved as a civilization since the day of the first surplus and amassing enough food supplies to survive droughts or bad weather gave way to a new breed of humans specializing in functions such as accounting, Trade, governing, minting money, inventing numbers then alphabets and it has not stopped since then.

Fast forward a few centuries and we get the printing press which made the diffusion of ideas an order of magnitude more when sharing a new invention which has been proven pivotal to the survival of our species and spreads a lot faster than previously.

Think about it: Everything you and I do today in any field around us is technology-related or driven by technology. 
In a past reality, economy drove knowledge, however, in today’s world it more of knowledge driving the economy.

Think about your job and ask yourself a question: Do you think that the majority of us today are information/knowledge brokers? Think about the explosion of inventions and meteoric growth of information created and is available today? Do you believe that those two trends necessitate that there are professionals like you and me who specialize in specific areas where we hold an over-average or an extraordinary amount of technical information/knowledge in the areas we specialize in regardless of the vertical industry itself.

What’s the point you may ask: The point is knowing that at the core, we are information/knowledge brokers offering our clients advice on what to do, but more importantly, what not to do, and what they need versus what they want based on the tremendous amount of knowledge we possess which is our key to reaching any goal or objective we have set for ourselves.­ It’s the knowledge we posses is what holds the key to our, and our clients’, success.

Did I lose you? Ok, let me restate this: the foundation of everyone’s career is based on his/her knowledge in the area they specialize in. Achieving awareness of this fact with some introspection on what you do day-in, day-out, is guaranteed to have an impact on how you view yourself and the way you deal with your customers and colleagues. It certainly impacted how I deal with my clients (I consider colleagues as internal clients and treat them the same way I do external clients).

In one of my favorite books, Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics by Eric D. Beinhocker, the book description states: “Accounting for the creation of wealth has long challenged humanity’s best minds” which could not be further from the truth.

The book establishes a key idea/hypothesis summarized as the ingredients to creating economic value are your usual economics foundational ideas: Land, Capital, Labor and now, Technology, as an endogenous growth factor and not an exogenous one as had been the widely held view in classical economics. Rephrasing from page 42 in the book: “The hypothesis which came to be in the mid 80’s by a Stanford economist Paul Romer…. who was became increasingly dissatisfied with the idea that that the real driver of growth, technology, was exogenous. So in 1990, Romer published a paper that kicked off the development of what has come to be known as endogenous growth theory where Romer located the source of energy for growth, not in the heroism of the entrepreneur, but in the nature of technology itself. He noted that technology has a cumulative, accelerating quality to it.” [Emphasis is mine] Simply stated: The more stuff we know, the greater the base of existing human knowledge, and the greater the payoff from the next discovery.”

This last statement is a belief which I hold very strongly and believe that the more knowledge we pass on to others, the more we are freed up to learn more.

I really like welcome your comments/opinions on this topic as I am very passionate about the subject and the very fact that technology (software) is nothing but knowledge packaged in several formats to solve business problems, empower people.